New York Comic Con 2021 marked my third NYCC, and just like the previous two times my favorite part of the experience was wandering the rows of Artist Alley, gazing at all the unique, vibrant, and fantastic art on display. Artist Alley this year was a little different than years past due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as was the convention as a whole.
Many of the biggest names who would normally be there decided not to come, and those who did had shorter lines than usual for both panels and signings. On the positive side, this created an opportunity for many artists and writers to make their NYCC debuts and show off their work. Because of the lack of conventions throughout 2020 and into 2021, I wondered how artists and writers, both those who were new to NYCC and NYCC veterans, were impacted by the pandemic.
Minneapolis-based illustrator Erica Williams was affected hard in the early days of the pandemic. She had four cons scheduled for 2020 that were all cancelled, and she had to sit on her stock all summer while selling it through her online shop. On the plus side, she did get a great show of support when she launched her Kickstarter for her art book Ritual. “It was amazing how much people came together to support artists,” she said. Her Kickstarter ended up being fully funded with all its stretch goals easily being met. “People are really lovely and want to spend money, but it’s not the same,” she said of her experience at NYCC compared to her experience with pre-pandemic conventions.
NYCC was Alyssa Tallent’s second con in as many months. “People really wanted to come back to Salt Lake in 2021,” she said, referring to FanX Salt Lake City, a con she’s done since 2018. Tallent thought she was able to get into NYCC because so many people backed out or didn’t want to come, but I think she was being too humble. Her sometimes vibrant, sometimes haunting art work made for some of my favorite purchases.
A couple of other first-time NYCC-ers were Rachel Elese and Beverly L.A. They’ve been doing cons together for five years after previously doing them solo. “Honestly, it’s the best,” L.A. said of being able to go to a convention and share a table with a friend. NYCC was their fourth con since the pandemic started. They told me sales came in waves, with some down time between customers, but during the time I spent at their table they served a steady stream of consumers eager for their prints and stickers. Elese’s anime-inspired work was a hit, and L.A.’s Lord of the Rings prints were flying off the table.
They both were happy the convention was attentive to everyone’s health (a sentiment shared by this humble writer) as NYCC required its attendees to be vaccinated against COVID and to wear a mask at all times. L.A. told me how the previous cons the artists went to in California didn’t do due diligence in checking vaccination status, and it felt more like an honor system. About 150,000 vaccinated fans showed up across the four days, down from the 260,000 in 2019. Wider paths between booths on the show floor and more distanced tables in artist alley allowed the attendees to spread out a bit more than past years (relatively speaking).
Betsy Peterschmidt is an NYCC veteran, having been to NYCC every year since 2011 save for 2018, which she called a “combo breaker.” NYCC ‘21 was her first convention since the pandemic began, and she was ecstatic when she learned she could go. “I’m really happy the show is happening because it’s the first show I can have my book for people to flip through,” she said, referring to her debut graphic novel Amelia Erroway: Castaway Commander, which she sold out of by Friday afternoon.
Peterschmidt noted her “biggest moneymakers” at cons are commissions. Her commission list was already ten people long by the time I spoke with her. She took a commission while I was at her table, which was a very fun experience. Her enthusiasm could not be contained, even though she was exhausted from a busy con. Peterschmidt had an optimistic view of NYCC, saying, “Sales have been fine and people are here, there’s just less of them.”
My last conversation of the con was with industry veteran David Mack. He told me a story of his first NYCC experience all the way back in 1993 when he left class in Kentucky to grab a seat in a car full of bundles of paper headed for New York. He got to sit at Caliber Comics’ table, the company that would publish his Kabuki series in the ‘90s.
Mack frequently travels internationally, both for conventions and for teaching art classes to children. “It’s great showing up to cities around the world and knowing there are people already there who love your work and tell you it’s great,” he said of going to conventions. He went to cons throughout Italy in February 2020 before the pandemic forced several Italian cities to quarantine and we in the states truly realized how severe the COVID-19 pandemic was going to be. He had planned to travel to more cons throughout the world in 2020, but they were all, of course, cancelled.
He was certainly glad to be back at NYCC this year and said the best thing for him is to “focus on the convention and interacting with people who come” to his table. He said every year NYCC gets better for him, with his audience steadily increasing, and ‘21 was no different. Mack sold out of all the books he brought to NYCC, sold a few original watercolors, and added plenty of names to his commission list.
Some creators, like Williams and Tallent, were hopeful that cons would see some type of normalcy by 2023. Tallent commented that the delta variant “ruined everything again” when it surged, bringing to mind the element of the unknown going forward. However, even with capacity being limited, other creators like Peterschmidt and Mack had convention experiences similar to years past, prior to when COVID-19 upended society.
No one can predict what’s next for the COVID-19 pandemic, but with vaccination rates in the US on the rise, most of us hope NYCC 2022 will look more like NYCC 2019 than this past weekend did. Like Peterschmidt told me, “people are still people who are gonna buy stuff,” and those people are certainly eager to get their cons back to normal.
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